Neighborhood Watch to get high-tech overhaul

It started a year or two ago when a car thief dumped a stolen car in Forest Gale Heights and ran off to hide from police.

The ensuing search of the area drew so many patrol cars and flashing lights that a resident contacted the Forest Grove Police Facebook page to ask “What’s going on?”

Capt. Mike Herb’s response post got shared several hundred times and the whole neighborhood went on alert. People locked their doors, turned on their outdoor lights — and Herb got a new appreciation for the power of social media.

He’s now leading an effort to upgrade the Neighborhood Watch program — just one of several new, creative attempts by the police department to connect with more residents.

n The second Coffee With A Cop session is planned for 8 a.m. July 2 at Maggie’s Buns, where Chief Janie Schutz and assorted officers will hang out for a few hours to chat with people. It’s a good place to bring questions that might seem too unimportant for an official police call, such as clarifications about crosswalk laws.

n Herb himself hopes to offer a “virtual ridealong” next week, letting the public experience a typical evening police shift as he narrates events from the passenger seat of a patrol car with the help of Facebook, Twitter and video feed.

n The department is hosting a booth at the Forest Grove Farmers Market on the First Wednesday of each month. In May, 40 people stopped by and signed up for Neighborhood Watch.

The Neighborhood Watch program is about to morph from its old-fashioned approach — posting signs in windows and creating a phone tree — into a high-speed information system using email, texts and social media for all kinds of public-safety alerts.

The city is divided into 33 Neighborhood Watch districts and if car break-ins are happening in a particular area, Herb will be able to send notifications to whichever groups are affected.

Of the 33 districts, only six are “cohesive,” according to Community Service Officer Teresa Kohl, although 18 invited Forest Grove officers to visit and chat last year in connection with National Night Out celebrations.

Herb said the department will work on improving both the numbers and the strength of its Neighborhood Watch program, whether through the market booth, a door-to-door effort, newspaper ads, notices in the city’s utility bills or other ways, including a new social media site called

Eight neighborhoods are already using, a private social network that can help neighbors with everything from tracking down a babysitter to finding a lost dog to learning about a burglarly.

The San Jose, Calif., police department is already using it to communicate with residents and other departments around the country are considering it, Herb said. In Forest Gale Heights, 39 neighbors use, while 71 use it in Oak Hills and 194 in The Parks at Forest Grove.

Herb hopes Neighborhood Watch will grow as quickly as the department’s Facebook page, which has gained 4,000 followers in just four years.

By this year’s National Night Out on August 5, he said, the department hopes to have contact information from people in all 33 districts.

For more information or to sign up, stop by the FGPD market booth June 4, call 503-992-3260 or send a message to the Forest Grove Police Facebook page.

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